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Archive for April, 2010

Molly, my daughter, is named after Mollye, my grandmother.

Mollye taught be everything I know about the art of food. I learned how to run the fork down the side of the cucumber before slicing it, to crinkle cut melons, to make radish florets and soak them in ice water so they expand. Mollye taught me how to curl butter into roses for fancy parties, how to slice and turn the edge of a coffee cake, how to arrange cookies, and fruit, and how to decorate a fish to look like, well, a fish.

So it was with great pleasure that, tonight, when Molly made herself a strawberry smoothie for a snack, she reached for the aesthetic of the moment. She saved out one strawberry, sliced it in half and then made careful grooves in each half so that she could carefully, and with great intention, garnish her glass. All for herself. For the sheer beauty and pleasure of the experience.

L’dor v’dor
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Tonight I made our challah with three kinds of seeds: sunflower, sesame and poppy. It makes a lovely bread, and while it bakes the seeds get toasted adding a flavorful crunch to the crust.

If you want to put seeds on baked goods, then do so deliberately, with focused intention. Don’t just dump them willy-nilly all over the top. Be mindful of the process. Have a plan and go about your business executing it in good taste.

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Creamed Spinach

Serve this while the spinach is still a bright green, and slightly al dente.

Since they were babies, my children have always loved this. Even tonight I heard a quiet little, “Ooo—creamed spinach!” when they sat down. Make this from fresh spinach, cut down on the cream by using 2% milk, and you’ve got a gorgeous vegetable dish that’s packed with flavor and nutrients. You’ll find that a lot of creamed spinach recipes either start with frozen spinach, or if using fresh the recipe directs you to blanch the spinach before creaming. Fresh spinach will release a lot of liquid during cooking, but I use that liquid to help make the cream sauce, so that all the vitamins end up in your serving bowl.

You have to start out with a ridiculous amount of fresh spinach. When you think about quantity, think about something roughly equal to the size of your head. Then double that amount. Tonight I started with 14 loosely packed cups of chopped fresh spinach, and wound up with 4 cups of creamed spinach.

I’m certainly not claiming that this is a no-fat dish, so if you are planning on serving something like this, then for goodness sake balance out the rest of your meal with simpler dishes. Tonight we had rotisserie chicken, plain baked sweet potatoes, plain brown rice, and fresh strawberries. When you look at the delightful mixture of color on your plate, you can feel good about enjoying this decadent-tasting creamed spinach.

Creamed Spinach

  • 14 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1-1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (optional), or more to taste
  • salt, to taste

Rinse the spinach leaves well, and discard the thicker stems. Chop coarsely. In a very large pot, melt the butter and saute the onion until soft. Sprinkle on the flour, and very slowly add the milk and then the half and half, stirring constantly. Add the chopped spinach and stir it in until it is well combined with the sauce. Add the salt and nutmeg. Keep stirring slowly. The spinach with wilt and the mixture will thicken. Heat through on a very low heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve while the spinach is still bright green and slightly al dente.

Start with 14 cups of chopped spinach.

If you're having a creamed green on your plate then balance it out with simpler foods.

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This is a company dish that you can prepare in less than 45 minutes. It’s a show-stopper with it’s contrasting colors and complex blend of textures and flavors.

Use your favorite sausage. Tonight I was lucky enough to have a garlic sausage ring from Romanian Kosher Sausage Company, corner of Clark and Touhy, Chicago. If you ever get a chance you should stop in there to buy deli meat that is fresh and well-seasoned, or to pick out a salami which hangs on the wall behind the butchers. This is the real deal. (Closed on Saturdays.)

I’ve  had great success with chicken-apple sausage, and for a low-fat version, turkey kielbasa.

Spicy Sausage and Beans over Polenta

Polenta

Start this first, and let it cook slowly while you cook the sausage and beans.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta (also called corn grits or coarse corn meal)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix together all of the ingredients, cooking slowly over medium heat, stirring often. It will thicken but should be thin enough to slowly pour off the spoon. Add more water as needed. It will take about 25 minutes to cook. You’ll know it’s done when it’s not gritty to chew.

Sausage and Beans

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into slices
  • 1 lb sausage, cut diagonally into slices
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes cut into large chunks, or 4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 15-oz can pinto beans
  • 1 15-oz can black beans
  • 1 Tbs. basil
  • 1 Tbs. oregano
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley

Saute the onion and sausage in the oil until the onions begin to caramelize and the meat is browned. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and let heat through. Add more salt, spices or cayenne to taste.

To serve, spoon the polenta into a large, deep-sided platter or pasta bowl. Ladle on the sausage and bean mixture, top with chopped parsley.

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Coffee-rich, moist and nutty. Boy are these good! I was out of the extra dark cocoa that I sometimes blend into my brownie batter so I pulverized some coffee beans in the grinder until they became dust, and substituted that.

Mocha Bars

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 7 Tbs. cocoa
  • 4 tsp. finely ground coffee
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 c. chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and mix well. Stir in dry ingredients, then vanilla. Pour into greased 8 x 8 pan, sprinkle with pecans and chips and lightly press them into the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

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Your oldest friend is stopping by for lunch, and she’s bringing along her 90 year-old mother. You make a chicken salad with thinly sliced apple and pecans that you toasted yourself in the oven. You ran out to the bakery to fetch a fresh baguette and heated it crisp in the oven. Throw in some large table grapes and some sliced cucumbers and you have a terrific menu. Set the table with your favorite stoneware dishes, put everything out on the table, and you’ve made a meal fit for your honored guests, right? The only problem is that after they take your well-prepared food and fill up their plate, they are staring at this:

This is a dull looking plate of food. Don't do this to your nice friends!

Why would you want to subject good friends to this most ordinary experience with your well-prepared food?!

My oldest friend, Lauren, and her mother, Ethel, stopped by for lunch today. It wasn’t a mere cross-town drive for them to come and visit, but rather a 100+ mile drive, which in my book merited special treatment. Lauren’s parents and my parents were once close friends, playing bridge and socializing together. Ethel, who is 90, shares a birthday with my dad. He is 91. At their ages they don’t have too many old friends with whom they might share a meal, and so it was quite the event to have them come for a visit.

It was through our parents that Lauren and I met, back when we were twelve. Lauren and I spent every available day together during the next couple of years, oblivious to the evils of junior high, safe from the ups and downs that befell the typical pre-teen. We took turns making school lunches for each other, she making lunches one week, and I the next. This was around the same year, so long ago, that microwaves were invented, and we gleefully indulged in canned ravioli, spagetti-o’s and other re-heatable, canned  delicacies while those around us were content with cold sandwiches.

This is the type of event that merits my finest china. I took out the rarely used Civil War era china, and artistically fussed over plating the food in the kitchen. Being presented with a nicely arranged plate of food, I hope, showed my guests how much of a special occasion this was for both me and my dad. Why wait for Thanksgiving to dust off your best china? Good friends merit royal treatment.

Wouldn’t you rather eat chicken salad off of this plate?

Lauren (left), at Dori's 12th birthday party.

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Charmoula

Chermoula marinated talapia, served tonight with brown rice, mixed vegetables and orange slices.

Charmoula sauce is something I’d never heard of until our friends Ben and Liz introduced it to us. They brought over a jar filled with the golden, green-speckled marinade and I tried it tonight with talapia. Charmoula is found in Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian cooking. It’s main ingredients are cilantro and garlic, along with coriander and chili peppers.

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